Saturday, January 10, 2009

Economic woes hurt attendance at 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Organizers of the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas put their best face forward when asked about the impact of the lousy economy on the trade show. They said the show was doing great, despite the recession.
But a look at foot traffic on the show floor during the first two days of the four-day show, which ends Sunday, indicated otherwise. Attendance was down noticeably from recent years.
The show still seemed reasonably well attended, but it was a far cry from the wall-to-wall people packing the exhibit floors in recent years.
Before the show, the Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors CES, estimated attendance of 130,000, down 8% from the previous year. (The peak year was 2006, when 152,203 people attended.) But I’d say the show was down double-digits from last year.
It was definitely easier to navigate the show floor this year. I could pass the slow-moving gawkers when rushing to get to appointments. In years past, I’d often get stuck in a river of people packing the hallways. (This was my 10th consecutive year covering the show for Investor’s Business Daily.)
It looked as if some planned exhibitors were no-shows. Organizers turned the empty exhibit spaces at the Las Vegas Convention Center into rest areas for attendees by adding tables and chairs. One long hallway between exhibits in the Central Hall was widened and park benches were added.
In the high-flying days of the show, there was never a place to sit down and have lunch or rest your feet. Not this year though. The North and Central halls of the LVCC had large areas in back with tables and chairs where exhibits had been in previous years. In the North Hall there was even a large open area with green carpeting and nothing else.
CES is still healthy, despite the economy. The number of companies represented at the show might have been stable, but those companies probably sent fewer people this year.
It wasn’t like the last two years of Comdex, where it was obvious the once mighty info-tech trade show was dying. (Comdex never returned after its 2003 show.)
The CEA likely will release preliminary attendance figures on Monday, the day after the show closes.

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